The feature-length debut of Tanzanian-American filmmaker Ekwa Msangi will leave you eager for more from the up-and-coming auteur. Msangi wrote and directed the film about an Angolan immigrant family who reunite after 17 years apart. Farewell Amor actually begins with this rejoining moment for the family of three in New York City. Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) picks up his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) from the airport to take them back to his one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment that they are to share, which begins their journey of rediscovering each other and what it means to live together as a family. Msangi gives us this initial introduction from an omniscient, third-person perspective before giving us each family member’s individual perspective on how events unfold. The choice allows us to better understand the central characters’ personal struggles with feeling the years apart as they try to reacquaint themselves with each other. Keep reading for a review of how the lead actors delivered in their respective well-drawn roles.

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine

You may already know Mwine for his work on Lena Waithe’s The Chi, and the actor is making waves with his performance in Farewell Amor. Variety calls his work in the film “exceptional,” and The Hollywood Reporter praises Mwine’s “elegant pauses and piercing stares that seem to jump through the screen.” The rave reviews are well-earned by the actor’s deeply-layered portrayal of a man trying to do right by his family while nursing a broken heart. We find out early in the film that Walter had a relationship with a woman named Linda during the years apart from his family, and the two part ways when his wife and daughter arrive in New York. Mwine’s ability to show the pain and guilt Walter feels while simultaneously attempting to put on a bright face for his family is truly masterfully done.

Zainab Jah 

Jah has appeared on series like Deep State and Homeland, and her performance as Esther in Farewell Amor is a strong addition to her body of work. As the matriarch of the film’s central family, Esther has overcome a lot of challenges to finally be reunited with her husband and have her family all together under one roof. During the time apart and the trials that came with it, she became devout in her Christian faith, a quality that shapes the character. But Jah brings complexity to a role that lesser actors might have made one-note with a singular focus on her religion. The actor layers into her character a strong sense of decorum, which includes only expressing what she feels is right and good. Besides this self-contained quality, Jah’s Esther is also watchful, observant, and carries herself with a regal bearing. Her neighbor notices the latter, nicknaming her “Queen,” and the thespian maintains the character’s perfect posture even under the weight of heartbreaking information she learns at the film’s conclusion. It’s an achingly beautiful moment and skillfully performed.

Jayme Lawson 

Lawson is a newcomer, with Farewell Amor as her first IMDb credit. She’s slated to appear in the upcoming Robert Pattinson-led The Batman, and based on her performance in this project, she’ll be one to watch. Lawson believably plays all of the awkwardness commonly found in teenagers, while also adding the required nuance to match the particular causes of her character’s discomfort. Sylvia is at first uneasy around her father, who is practically a stranger, and is initially shy toward her new American classmates, as well. But the actor infuses into the character a quiet strength that bubbles below the surface and spills out during the film’s climactic dance performance. Lawson shines in this poignant scene where Sylvia bravely puts on display her true essence and power, expressed through movement. The emotionally impactful performance is sure to stay with you long after the credits roll. 

Farewell Amor premiered in competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to strong critical praise and received a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Outside of its stars, other actors to watch for in the film include Nana Mensah, Joie Lee, and Marcus Scribner. You can catch all these performances and more when IFC Films releases the feature in theaters and on demand come December 11.